By Evita Ochel, CHN
It is estimated that 25% of Americans take some type of medication every year to help them sleep. And about 40% of Americans with insomnia self-medicate with over the counter sleep medication. This is not good news for most, as sleeping pills can severely hurt one’s health and sleep cycles, both short and long-term.
I want to share with you some quick facts of why you should not simply settle for pharmaceutical sleep medication and introduce you to several natural sleeping remedies that may be able to help, while not causing complications or worse sleep disturbances in the long run.
Before You Consider A Sleeping Aid
Before you consider taking any natural or artificial remedies to help you sleep, you must first understand that the process of sleep is a very strictly controlled and balanced cycle in the body. If you were to live as naturally as possible, you would find that your body generally speaking has no problems, falling asleep, staying asleep and waking up when necessary.
However, seeing that our culture and lifestyles have taken many of us as far away from our natural way of living, we have to face the fact that we have also disrupted one of our most primal responses – our sleep cycles. And when we take sleeping aids, we are interfering even more with this delicate system within us.
So before you try any sleeping aids, I strongly urge you to first take a serious look at your life, because a life out of balance, usually means sleep out of balance. It is too convenient in our society to mask all symptoms with a quick fix, like a pill. However, we have to understand that every symptom our body gives us, including sleep problems, is the body’s way of telling us that something is out of balance.
Thus the more sound and long term solution is to fix the balance, not mask the symptom of the imbalance. The biggest reason of why people have sleep problems is stress, over thinking, anxiety, depression and similar issues. These are all fixable, of course not as easy as taking a pill, but fixing these is the real and high quality solution. Anything else does not compare.
Having said this, I still want to leave you with a quick resource of natural sleeping aids, because I know that some people will still want a quicker fix, and sometimes, do not get me wrong, a life situation may warrant that for someone. This way you can first consider natural aids, which are much less disruptive to your body, rather than their chemical counterparts.
Why You Should Not Take Pharmaceutical Sleeping Pills
As with all other pharmaceuticals, having the unwanted symptom go away, ALWAYS comes with a price. The price may be big or small and in some cases may even be unnoticeable to us, but never to our body.
So whether they are over the counter or prescription based, if you are considering this avenue, I highly urge you to exhaust all other options first. Risks associated with these pills can, but are not limited to, being associated with the following:
* Not being very effective and a waste of your money
* May impair daytime alertness and awareness
* May be habit forming and/or addictive
* Create more unnecessary work for the liver
* Can make the body become dependent on them, making sleep impossible without them
* Proven to reduce the amount of time that you spend in a deep sleep
* Quick to develop a tolerance to, thereby needing higher doses
* May cause feeling drowsy the next day, dizziness, dry mouth, urinary retention, constipation, and blurred vision
* Are not curing the insomnia or its root cause, are masking the symptoms and artificially pushing your body into a sleep state
Natural Sleeping Aids
The following list includes some natural sleeping aids. Some are to be taken orally, while others can be applied topically or infused in your sleeping environment.
Please note, that I have never tried any of these myself for regulating or inducing sleep, and hence cannot comment personally on their effectiveness. I have put together the following information as a resource with which you can begin considering natural sleep aids. If you decide on a particular one, it is highly recommended that you thoroughly research it further before using it, as sometimes people underestimate the power of plants when it comes to medical effects.
Is a flowering vine native to North America, Asia, and Europe. Hops have been used for centuries for their sedative qualities to help promote positive support for sleep difficulty, occasional anxious feelings, restlessness, nervousness and tension.
This herb has an excellent rating in terms of how it is tolerated and no drug-related adverse effects were reported in clinical trials involving adults.
Hops are often combined with Valerian, passion flower, and German chamomile in herbal preparations, in order to bolster its effects. Hops are available for consumption as a dry herb, supplement or tea extract.
Specifically, Spanish Lavender herb can ease anxiety, depression and insomnia (among other things), as it acts as a mild sedative.
Lavender is usually consumed as a tea, but can also be found in pill form.
Research has confirmed that lavender produces calming, soothing, and sedative effects. Lavender soothes, calms and harmonizes, relieving nervous tension and irritability.
3. Passion Flower
Is considered a mild sedative and has been well documented as a sleep inducing and even analgesic agent.
Is most commonly taken in pill form or tea form, or in blends with other herbal sleep aids.
It appears completely non-toxic, but has possible interactions with some medical drugs.
Is one of the most popular mild sedatives used in our society today and also has been noted to ease nervous tension and anxiety. It is not habit forming or addictive, nor does it lead to any decreased alertness in the morning.
Valerian is usually taken about an hour before bedtime. It takes about two to three weeks to work. It is recommended that it shouldn’t be used for more than three months at a time, as studies at this time on its efficacy or long term use are inconclusive.
It has been used for hundreds of years and appears completely non-toxic. It has been approved for food use by the FDA, with no known drug interactions at this time. However, it like most of the other herbal aids, does not work for everyone.
5. Essential Oils
Most effective essential oils for helping with sleep include lavender, clary sage, neroli and ylang-ylang. They can be applied topically to various parts of the body or used in an aromatherapy device or procedure.
It is a very safe and pleasant method to consider as a sleep aid.
The most common sedative blend includes: chamomile, juniper, lavender, marjoram, neroli, rose and sandalwood.
New scientific evidence has suggested that the aroma-therapeutic benefits of lavender may include: promoting relaxation, slowing the activity of the nervous system, and improving the quality of sleep in people suffering from sleep disorders. Allergic contact dermatitis has been documented in some individuals from using lavender oil topically.
This is perhaps the most gentle and completely safe to use sleeping aid. In fact it is so gentle that it rarely works for people with serious insomnia or even mild sleep problems.
It is easiest consumed as a tea, however the tea should be of high quality and purity for best effectiveness. The low-cost chamomile teas sold at local grocery stores will be of little value to most.
There are no side-effects or any kind of problems with using this herb, unless you have an allergy to its plant class.
Is the hormone that our body makes to induce our natural sleep state and hence some people have started using this in its synthesized form. In some ways this is most natural to our body to induce and stabilize sleep, but on the other hand has the power to alter our natural melatonin production if body adapts to an artificial source of it.
It is most commonly used in pill form, liquid form or as a nasal mist, which promises faster and more efficient absorption. It would normally be taken about a half an hour before you think you might want to fall asleep.
Out of the hundreds of tasks that magnesium performs in the body, it is also a natural sedative. Thus, deficiency of magnesium can result in sleeping difficulties, constipation, muscle tremors, cramps, anxiety, irritability, and pain. It has also helped people with restless leg syndrome.
Magnesium can be taken orally in pill, liquid or powder form (mixed with water) or topically as transdermal magnesium.
Foods rich in magnesium are legumes and seeds, dark leafy green vegetables, wheat bran, almonds, cashews, blackstrap molasses, brewer’s yeast, and whole grains.
It is pretty much impossible to get too much magnesium from one’s diet, but overdosing on supplemental magnesium is possible, thus be sure to check with your health care provider before taking, as high magnesium supplements can also interact with some medications.
In conclusion, if you are suffering from poor quality of sleep or have trouble falling and staying asleep, remember that any medication whether natural or synthetic should be your last resort.
Aside from being tied to an illness, the majority of our sleep problems come from our lifestyles and thought patterns. Hence it is very advisable that if you are having trouble sleeping for a prolonged period of time, the first thing you should do is go talk to a health care provider to consider non-medicinal options. Also read part 4 of our Sleep Aware Series (if you have not already done so), to see what other culprits can be throwing off your natural sleep cycle.
If you do decide to pursue a treatment, start with a naturopath as they will be most knowledgeable on how to deal with your sleep problems in the most natural way possible.
About the author:
Evita Ochel, B.Sc., B.Ed., CHN – is a certified holistic nutritionist, biologist, educator, writer, researcher and speaker in the areas of health, science and holistic wellness. She is a nutritional science expert and her teaching and writing focus on natural, wholesome, plant-based and organic nutrition to achieve optimal health and longevity. Learn more about Evita Ochel or Follow Evita Ochel on Twitter.